Jason Campbell: Toughness
Jason Campbell played football for Auburn University before he was drafted in the first round by the Washington Redskins in the 2005 NFL Draft. As a starter at Auburn, he had a different offensive coordinator every year but Campbell found his stride during his senior season when he led the Tigers to an undefeated season and was named SEC Player of the Year and MVP of the SEC Championship Game.
Campbell played for the Redskins for four seasons before he was traded to the Oakland Raiders in 2010. He had his ups and downs in Oakland, but he led Oakland to a 4-2 record in 2011 before he suffered a season-ending injury. Campbell’s contract was up in Oakland following the 2011 season, and he signed with the Chicago Bears for the 2012 season.
Campbell’s humility and perseverance have been an inspiration to those around him, and his positive spirit is contagious. I had the pleasure of talking to Campbell about his experience at Auburn as well as the NFL, and what he has learned through adversity.
Talking about his experience at Auburn:
The whole recruiting process can be exhausting but when I stepped on campus at Auburn I felt right at home because it just felt like a family environment between the players. When you get away from home there are a lot of things that will try to pull you in different directions so it’s important that you have people to hold you accountable.
From my first year at Auburn up until my senior year I grew not just as an athlete but also as a person. I went through four different coordinators during my time there and I was able to cope and deal with it because of my faith in God and trusting that He does things for a reason. Sometimes God uses athletes to be able to tell their personal stories to other kids that are watching you to convey the fact that you don’t ever give up.
My freshman year I almost transferred and my dad and I decided that I should stay there and let things play out. Things got better my sophomore year and continued to get better my junior year, until my offensive coordinator left to take the head coaching job at Louisville and we had to start all over again. Going into my senior season, Coach Al Borges was hired to come to Auburn and was able to put the pieces together. We always had talent but Coach Borges was able to get us to play together. I thank God that I stayed there because if I had left Auburn I wouldn’t be the person that I am today. It is the same way in life because you go through tough times and have to make tough decisions but I learned just to stay still and let God work it out for you because He has a purpose even if you can’t see it in the moment. I always had to remember that God didn’t bring me this far to leave me.
Talking about going undefeated his senior year at Auburn:
We had 26 seniors on that team and we were a brotherhood. It all started through something that our team chaplain did for us as a team on Friday nights. We would invite players to come and sit and talk about what was going on in our lives. We didn’t talk about football; we just talked about life and what different people were going through. We learned so much about each other that we all grew together. Our team verse that year was Proverbs 3:5-6. That verse talks about leaning on the Lord and not your own understanding. That verse helped unite and strengthen us as a team.
Talking about what he learned through all the coordinator changes in college:
Patience and perseverance- most people aren’t willing to accept or adapt to change and this is true both in football and in life. Change happens everyday, and it taught me a lot about patience and trust because I went through some of the same things in the NFL. What I was going through in college prepared me for what I would end up going through in the NFL. People don’t realize how tough it is to go through different coordinators and to learn a new system year in and year out or every two years. It’s tough because you don’t really get a chance to elevate your game to the next level because you’re playing and learning at the same time instead of just playing.
I believe that things happen for a reason, and maybe it happened so I can teach other kids that look up to me to understand that life will not always be a perfectly painted picture. You have to fight your way through things and not let your battles beat you up. I still continue to do that to this day.
Going into my senior season everyone knew that we had two of the best running backs in the country, Ronnie Brown and Cadillac Williams. I remember reading a magazine article that talked about the upcoming college football season, and the article said that the Auburn backfield had two of the best running backs in college football who were likely first round draft picks but their quarterback probably won’t be drafted. That stung because I knew I was a competitor and I knew the stuff I had gone through that other guys didn’t have to go through, but it made me work even harder. My senior season I ended up winning SEC Player of the Year, MVP of the SEC Championship Game, and MVP of the Sugar Bowl. I had a lot of games where I was player of the week during the season and it just goes to show you that people can say what they want to say but God has the last say-so. You can’t get too tied up with what people say about your abilities or your talent because in life there will always be people who say you can’t do or achieve something.
Talking about his most memorable game at Auburn:
My most memorable game at Auburn was during my senior season when we beat LSU 10-9. We were driving down the field to try and win the game, and I remember it was fourth-and-fourteen and I got hit right as I threw the ball. All I could hear was the crowd going crazy and that’s when my receiver, Courtney Taylor, caught the ball for the first down. We didn’t do much the next couple of plays and found ourselves in a third-and-twelve situation and we still were able to score. I threw another ball to Courtney Taylor and this time he caught it in the back of the end zone.
Talking about getting drafted in the first round by the Washington Redskins:
I remember Coach Gibbs coming down to see me and said to me, “If you’re still available by the time we get to pick then we’re going to pick you.” I got really excited but it still didn’t set in until it actually happened.
It was one of the historic moments in my life because Coach Gibbs was a franchise coach who had won three Super Bowl rings and is one of the greatest coaches to ever coach the game. Coach Gibbs had just come back into coaching after being out in retirement and here I am having a chance to play for him was huge. I knew a lot about him not just as a coach, but just in faith and knowing he takes care of his players and treats them the way he wants to be treated because that’s where his roots are. His roots are anchored in Christ, and to play for a guy like that meant so much to me.
Having a guy on the team like James Thrash, someone that would hold you accountable in your faith was really important. There is no better guy than James Thrash, from what he went through in his life and where he is as a person now, he really walked the walk. He is an example to people just through the way he lives his life. He didn’t have to say or do a whole lot, but he was one of those guys who was consistent every day and you knew exactly what you would get out of him. I appreciated him because he didn’t even realize how many guys looked up to him; I was one of those guys.
All the things that happen off the field in the NFL are tough because you have to worry about being traded, having different coordinators every other year, and just general uncertainty. It was tough but at the same time I understand that life is tough. I might be fighting my battle in my career but someone else is fighting an even harder battle in fighting for his or her life. There really is no comparison and I have to remember how blessed I am to play the game I love, because even if you think you got it bad there is always someone else who has it worse.
Talking about how dealing with adversity has made him a better teammate and friend:
I remember when I was playing in Oakland, there were a lot of young guys who looked up to me and I tried to tell them about situations that I went through in my life and my career to help them in their career. These guys were in their first and second year in the NFL, and a lot of situations or things come along where they don’t get along with the coach or have a problem with their playing time or role on the team. There is so much stuff going on off the field that I would tell them to stay level headed as much as possible because you don’t want to do anything now that will cost you later.
Talking about his favorite Coach Gibbs moment:
I always loved Coach Gibbs’ laugh. He has a great laugh. He would always come into team meetings and remind us that we could be doing something else, and we should be thankful that we get to play the game that we love and get paid to do it. How many people on earth can say they are working in a job that pays them a lot of money that they actually love? Coach reminded us that we get to play a game that we loved growing up as a kid, so why not make the most of it? That always stuck with me because it’s true.
Talking about what he’s up to now and plans for the future:
When I was with the Oakland Raiders I was arguably having my best season as a pro, and we were rolling in our division and were on track to make the play-offs and host a play-off game when I broke my collar-bone. When I got hurt, Oakland traded for Carson Palmer and it was tough, but I know that through tough times there are also brighter days ahead. Tough times don’t last, tough people do.
I am playing for the Chicago Bears this season and right now I’m working out in Chicago, and know that I have to accept a back-up role until I get myself going again. Sometimes you have to take a step back to move forward, so I am trying to make the most out of it and be as positive as I can for this new opportunity.
My health is good and my shoulder is a lot better, I just have to continue to keep pushing forward.